Friday, February 27, 2015

How to Live When Your Spirit Needs Resuscitation

It was 15 years ago today. The call came just hours after a nurse told me to leave because my dad would be okay and it changed everything. I threw on this obnoxious, loud wind jacket I always rolled my eyes when he wore, entered his room, and said everything I knew to say in the moment. I was a young girl saying goodbye to my dad. He was only 47.

I closed the glass door and heard his friend say, “I didn’t tell him I appreciated him,” and I vowed not to make that my story. In the moment where many things changed about me, some things changed in me. Things that I think have made me a better person even though I would never choose what I lived.

Including my faith.

I struggled to put it nicely, sucker-punched by a life I never saw coming.

What kind of loving God would let this be my story?,” I asked of my religion professor who came to my home.

People came because they loved and my heart was a ping pong ball vacillating between wanting presence and shutting my bedroom door on all in my space. Wearing my heart on my sleeve in tough moments isn’t my gift. I was confused. My “God of love” that had always meant everything to me didn’t congeal with my life turned upside down. Numb, I put on a nice girl face because that is what I was. A nice girl.

My friend Heather saw right through my unspoken struggle, walking through my door and handing me bubble bath. Permission to get away. Permission, I discovered, to have it out with God.

I can’t tell you how many bubble baths I took in the dark by the light of a small candle flame. It felt like my world- a small flicker in consuming darkness. Gushes of tears melded into the water so that I couldn’t tell where they started and the water ended.

I let anger burn hot. I dared ask my God the hard questions that my put-together self never previously said aloud. I felt all the feels that nice girls and pretty put-together Christians never speak of in our “confident” life.

And my spirit started to breathe again.

Maybe you are reading this and your life has been turned upside down. Maybe you feel in the dark and you are wondering how you are supposed to live a solid faith in what can feel a shaky world. And to you I say this, solid faith isn’t pretty. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite.

The Word says, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) a less than lovely promise that we Christians don’t get to side step no matter how much we’d like to believe the faith life is insulation from misery.

Faith is made real when we are real through it.

If I believe in a God that knows the number of hairs on my head, then certainly He knows all I am thinking and feeling. The real and only question, then, is if I admit to it. If I’m bold enough to offer the ugly to God. And while we can feel this makes a “bad Christian,” I would argue that it, in fact, makes us a better one. Because void words grow distant but honesty draws us nearer. This is true in all our human relationships so why would we think it any different with God?

He is big enough to cushion all your stuff. And, when you share it with Him, you feel the second part of the verse, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” This isn’t felt in the pretty, put-together moments. It’s in your sloppy tears and venomous words when you realize He still pulls you onto His lap and whispers, “I love you and I am with you.” With you in your sadness. With you in your anger. With you in your darkness just helping you breathe.

Confident faith isn’t knowing all the words. That is memorization. Confident faith is trusting you are loved through your brokenness. It’s real relationship.

One day you will see God in things like bubble bath. You will look back stronger with greater ability to love in the tough spaces of life. But for now, breathe out honesty. It’ll look a lot like a roller coaster ride of emotions from minute to minute. Sometimes you will like yourself and sometimes you won’t like the taste of your thoughts. But as you open your spirit, you give God access to work in and through you, resuscitating you back to life. And the living faith that emerges? It will be one that carries you through all the feels.

This is the messy beautiful of life. The life-giving faith that restores.

Be real, friends. He will revive you. :)

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me. 1 Timothy 4:17

XO Melissa

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Dear Girls, What You NEED to Know About Love {Part 2 to Life on the Playground}

She threw the words like missiles, their impact exploding deep. I told you when it comes to kindness we never really graduate from the playground, girls. And, I wished I could tell you differently.

Sometimes life feels like a battleground.

Shock fell in tears and I whispered confusion to God before bleeding my heart into words on a screen, letting the rest of the “playground” in to respond as they may.

And, girls, this is what I learned. When people hurl words that burn deep, OPEN YOUR EYES. I know the natural response is to hang your head and wish for a bell to ring, magically whisking you off to a new setting and circumstance. I wished for that and I probably will with hurt at some point in the future. It’s part of our humanity. But there is another part of our humanity, a holy part, found in the ashes.

New faces emerged on the playground.

The first to turn to me apologized that anyone would hurt me. I responded with a protected thanks. I suppose words of my kindness were hard to hear when my soul felt so stung. However, this friend didn’t let my silence force hers. She kept talking, reliving a time when she too was taken aback by someone’s rant. Humiliated. Angry. It resonated.

Girls, not only do your tears have company, but the wounded around you will help carry you.

A newer face came next. I’ve seen her on the playground and waved hello, but more recently we’ve begun talking as friends, and I’m so thankful for the way the Lord weaves people into our lives because she has a forever special quality. Like an onion, she slowly peels back more layers of who she is, and only grows sweeter as she does. This time she divulges an experience when life felt outside of her control and, “if we can just keep our eyes on Him,” she says with pained yesterday in her eyes, “there is more.”

Girls, when feelings of desperation seize, the humble brave help you cling to Bigger.

And then came the cheerleader. Maybe if we could all just offer a bigger slice of the pie, she poses, we could all play nicer. We’d recognize the hunger for love and attention and gift it. We’d shed the lie of limited fortune in favor or limitless plenitude. I love her because even in the ugly she energetically rallies for belief in being a better people. And she challenges my mindset.

Girls, the champion will restore your excitement in the playground, helping you to stand up, bless and be blessed.

Finally comes the one currently broken right along with you. “Hurt people hurt people,” she laments and walks away.

Girls, we are a messy world of stories, masks, and insecurities and those word missiles thrown at you may have nothing to do with you at all.

Do you see what...

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

50 Shades? Not Today

Recently a teen wrote. Struggling with feeling beautiful, she feared no one would desire her, leaving her to die a virgin. This fear was so great she was contemplating action that'd fly in the face of her own beliefs if a boy “wanted” her.

Cultural influences have equated experiencing sex with the fulfilled life.

And can we blame her? They are making sexy ads on Celebrity Apprentice in hopes of getting charity money. Katy Perry is wearing some kind of sheer icicle thing we are supposed to label a dress on the Grammy runway. And, tonight, midnight showings of Fifty Shades of Grey will hit the theatre. The predicted sales for the weekend are a whopping $60 million dollars. That is A LOT of Valentine’s dates.

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read the books. I have no desire. However, my work beckons me to approach the topic with food for thought for singles and marrieds alike.

I’ve done my research. I’m saddened by what I read.

While the argument will be made that these are “only” books or “just” a movie, there is no denying  there must be reason behind the call to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure” (Phil 4:8). We were created a hormonal people and we respond to what we see, entertain, and act on.

My dear speaking friend and co-author, Pam Stenzel, warns, “Your most important sex organ has nothing to do with what’s below your belt. It’s your brain.”

There are reportedly 20 minutes of graphic sex scenes, making up for about 1/5 of movie time, not to mention “romance” that inflicts pain in this film.

So what do we need to consider?

For the singles, watching this will undeniably mold perception of what intimacy looks like. I shudder at the thought of emails to come in the days ahead. God created sex to be a beautiful, sacred gift between husband and wife. A “one flesh” experience that only seeks to honor the other and, in it, creates a unique knowingness special to the covenant relationship. There is no room for violence in this plan. There is no room for minimizing one to an object in this plan. There is no room for using sex as a means to selfish benefit. That is not a patient and kind love (1 Cor 13:4).

And for the marrieds. We have the ring and the right boundary but we need to stay in the right experience. Stick with me through a little hormone lesson. Men release vasopressin, a hormone that bonds the male with what is in front of him. Partners, pornography, and graphic sexual movies threaten the ability to bond exclusively with his wife. Females release oxytocin, sometimes called the "bonding hormone," a beautiful thing if you are hugging someone you love or nursing your infant made less lovely if you are gluing yourself sexually to someone not fully bound. And, let's be honest, to think that couples are going to leave this film and have authentic desire for each other is denial. The spark will come from what was seen and the marital bed experience built on shallow remembrances rather than genuine respect for the spouse’s temple.

Ultimately how you handle this film in your home and the parenting of your kids is yours. We all make choices and live with the good and bad that comes of them. But I pray you will carefully consider what image you want to paint of love before you and/or your children gussy up for your special Valentine's night out.

Teens/singles, if your date wants to take you to this, it is time to ask yourself some important questions. If this doesn’t align with your character values, do you really want to be with this person in the first place? Dating premeditates marriage and you need to be selective now to have the person you want in the future. Plus you need to be the type of person you hope to find. Does viewership devalue respect for yourself and your future spouse? Pick up Nobody Told Me. Lifelong love looks different and it can be yours.

Marrieds, love each other well. We all know that marriage is hard work and we need to be intentional to choose honor for each other to withstand the threats of this world.

Real fulfillment comes not in an act, but in the One who shows us how to love.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Botched Science Fair Experiment that Taught Me S'more About Life

It started like it has every other year. Local high school students came to my daughters’ elementary school and demonstrated some mini explosions and fascinating creations that got them all reved up about science, landing us a booth in the optional science fair.

Excited to come up with a project, the girls logged on to Steve Spangler and found a pizza box solar oven - seemingly requiring nothing but sun - to make s’mores. They couldn’t wait. S’mores are pretty much a love language to them in the summer and experimenting to make them another way? Well what could be better?!

They eagerly prepared their solar oven, assembled the s’mores, placed a thermometer in the box, and set it outside on an atypically warm, full sun day. Every few minutes they ran to check their box expecting a certain outcome. Time passed with no change, driving them back to the computer for research. NASA informed us that it should be at least 87 degrees for this project to work well outside. Thanks, Steve, we could have used that heads up in the how-to video! That isn’t going to happen in January in South Dakota.  Still, it suggested use of a 100 watt light bulb if it is not so sunny, which led the girls down a long road of experiment modifications to try and make this work and this mama to her knees begging God for the marshmallows and chocolate to just melt already. Only in parenthood. We ended by the fireplace, the temp no longer registering meaning room temp was now in triple digits, with the 100 watt bulb, staring at the unmelting s’mores.

How are my kids supposed to stand in front of a bunch of viewers & judges and say their experiment didn’t work? I need to find out who the committee chairs are and see if we can do a new experiment. One that is successful so they can feel proud.
A mama response to protect her kids that parallels the human condition.

We have dreams for our lives. Visions for the way we want it to look and hope for what others will see in us and when that flops, well then what? When situations outside our control crush us. When choices are made that reflect the opposite of who we want to be. When life doesn’t match up with our expected outcome. How do we respond?

I doubt I’m alone in my recoil because vulnerability isn’t an easy place to live.

And it wasn’t something I was about to force onto my girls. “Hannah and Grace,” I sat them at the table, “Do you want to stick with your experiment and explain to people what you tried and what you learned or would you like to find a new experiment to do? We support you either way.”

They opted to stick with it, writing this on their display.

My heart beat shaky as little hands wrote words with adult teaching.

What if we lived life not seeking the next best way to look good but in acceptance of our current reality? What if we called the hurtful and embarrassing things like they are (to the people who truly care about our hearts) so that we could work with what is? What if we lived with more vulnerability instead of pretending away that which affects us because you know what? Embarrassments don’t have to drown. Hurts don’t have to suffocate. Life can be lived hand in hand. Letting go of what you think will protect you and sharing what actually reflects you will in fact free you.

And people respond. As our girls stood by their board and noticed their big life lesson note, more stopped to than in any other year, eager to talk with them about what happened, why, and how they were doing with the results. Community rallied around them and uplifted them.

Because in the midst of their botched experiment, they stood authentic in the real science of life.

Grace and Hannah, daddy and I have never been more proud of your science fair participation. You remind us all how to be brave.

XO Melissa/Mom

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